We’re only a few episodes into the fourth season here, but I’m already finding myself asking: what does this show want to accomplish? Does it want to tell us something new about the characters? Season 3 said “maybe” to that one. Does it want them to progress towards their own goals? All three seasons have said “okay, sure, a little” to that one. I feel that the worst this show could do would be to rest on its laurels and just endlessly plug different nouns, names, locations, Balki-isms, and family members into a Mad Libs-style formula. Actually, the worst this show could do would be more episodes like The Unnatural, or Better Shop Around. Actually, no, I take that back: the worst this show could do is have four more seasons after this one. That would certainly end in me k–
Linn-Baker and Pinchot decided somewhere between seasons 1 and 2 that they wanted to have fun with this thing and goof around with physical comedy. Audiences liked, and ABC played it up. Season 3’s Just Desserts was a high-water mark for physical comedy on this show, even if it was at some moments hoping we would ascribe I Love Lucy’s zaniness to it via reference. We didn’t get overloaded with chocolates, but Balki did shake his imaginary tits around.
Last week showed us that Perfect Strangers still retained part of its original formula of Larry trying to lead Balki astray with American capitalist shortcuts. But just as Coke Classic was the result of popular demand, Perfect Strangers’s attempts to go forward ended up going backwards instead, because that’s where the laughs seemed to be. So “Aliens” gives us one answer to the question of what the show’s goals were: to claim its place as the descendant of classic television programming.
We open at the Chronicle, and I’m excited by the fact that there’s Halloween decorations around! I love Halloween episodes of shows, and I think it’s a safe bet many of you do as well. I saw the very first Halloween episode of Roseanne on its original airing, and for me, that experience has never been matched. I don’t expect greatness here, but I am excited to see what Perfect Strangers does.
Larry is on the phone trying to tell someone how great this episode is going to be. They don’t want to come. And then he has trouble getting that exposition out over Harriette and Lydia fighting. Lydia is upset because Larry pulled her away from an important phone call (so how did Larry get ahold of her…?), but–
Harriette: What were you doing? Asking your hairdresser if you should go back to your natural color?
OH SHIT HARRIETTE KNOWS
You guys, weep for Harriette; her days are numbered. Larry invites them to a horror movie marathon. Yes! Any party can be turned into an epic bash by just sitting around, facing the same direction, and not talking for 12 hours.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that the show finally found a way to have women be funny, even if they have no impact on the plot. They’re basically just riffing on a key word is in whatever Larry just said. We also find out that Harriette does indeed know the entire building’s secret sex lives, and that Lydia hasn’t showered alone since she saw Psycho.
Harriette ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but evidently the mother of her constantly-enraged cop husband is some sort of demon from hell, so she’s good.
Balki comes in wearing a Barbra Streisand mask.
Haha, j/k, Balki comes in wearing the face of a sheep he killed and brought with him from Mypos. Larry humors his child by pretending not to know who it is.
Balki: It’s Balki!
What the fuck, I mean that’s really stretching the idea that Balki is so much Balki the Kid that he can’t see that someone else would see what clothes he has on.
Balki thinks everyone’s coming to their party so Larry breaks the bad news about how some actors are on set for only one day, since they show up in fewer episodes. Belita Moreno is shooting the scenes for all of her episodes that day, and she won’t be there tomorrow when they shoot apartment scenes. It will just be the girlfriends, but why couldn’t they invite Schlaegelmilch?
And even though we established not two minutes ago that Larry and Balki were throwing this horror movie party, Larry has to explain what a horror movie is to Balki, and why they’re supposed to be fun to watch. I had a friend once tell me they couldn’t stand watching The Office because they worked with people like that and couldn’t laugh at the situations they create. I guess the plot of The Birds was too similar to what happened on Mypos day to day that Balki swore off scary movies years ago.
Larry puts down New Yorkers, and the scene ends. Later that evening, at the apartment, Balki is dressed as a big ol’ red cock. I think Dmitri might be wearing a similar costume.
Larry is dressed as a legal-department-approved Jason clone, complete with hockey mask and knife in the chest. Remember last week how I said that Larry always feels that he’s a broken, wounded individual, and how he always puts on masks to make himself seem more self-assured? That costume, whether it meant to be or not, is friggin’ deep. Similarly, Jennifer’s costume is as deep as she is. I get the impression she asked herself what types of stock Halloween personages there were and stopped when she got to the first one that had the same gender. Larry’s costume is meant to scare others, and Jennifer’s implies the bare minimum of thought. Balki seems to assume that the purpose of a costume is just to have fun*. Mary Anne (Sagittarius) is dressed as a pilot and this joke is the absolute best because it’s not even mentioned, much less stepped on.
After six hours of watching movies, Jennifer and Mary Anne say they’ve have enough. Mary Anne is upfront with her feelings, admitting to feeling nauseated, but takes out time to thank the cousins for having her over, and even makes a joke. What a dumb woman, huh?
Jennifer’s all like “I already said I’m leaving, fuck you if you think I’m going to say anything else”, and they leave. Twist that knife a little more, wontcha, lady?
Larry points at the TV Guise and tells us the whole plot of the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Balki, you’re not going to criticize this show for being heavy-handed with its foreshadowing, are you?
Cousin Larry suggests they watch the movie in the dark.
Balki doesn’t want that because this episode is already loaded in my favor, ripe for penetration jokes based on their costumes. Haha, nah, j/k, there wasn’t going to be any sex tonight anyway. Balki’s so scared that his genital cluster has retreated as far as it can into his body, leaving a bulb of wrinkled flesh roughly the size of a Fun Size Snickers.
And for 10 minutes straight, they disagree about whether he is scared of the dark and keep flipping the switch, until Larry pulls a Bugs Bunny on him.
Balki refuses to finish the marathon with Larry, saying he believes that movies put bad thoughts into people’s heads. This has long been the argument against graphic horror. It may go further back than this, but I’ve read a bit on both the Hays Code** as well as the origin of the Comics Code Authority. The fear behind both was “what will it do to the children?” if they see murder or any sort of evil. But saying this fear is unfounded is not a very strong counterpoint. If you’re a librarian like me, or any sort of educator, you likely believe that good literature and films will have a positive impact on their audiences. If good movies help, bad movies can hurt, so Balki heads off to read The Little Engine That Could.
Fuck, guys, I’ve written a lot here, and there’s nothing going on. The story so far is that the cousins didn’t have many guests for their party, and now they have no guests for their party. Can I get an act break?
Thank you! Now, can I get an actual story?
: – |
It’s business as usual around the apartment; Balki the Wife is cleaning and cooking up a batch of mach back zick zick*** (pig stomach stuffed with head cheese) for their trip to Mypos. Balki says “I’ll be snookered!” and that’s the last time I’m going to mention that–this isn’t the first time he’s said it and I know it’s not the last. You’re not getting another catchphrase, Balki.
Balki keeps doing weird things, like seeing Larry even when Larry’s standing behind him, zapping food with his finger, and leaving a milk carton hanging in midair.
You said you’d never seen Mork and Mindy, Bronson. By the way, that’s an authentic 1987 Telco Motionette witch there on the counter. Cousin Larry decides that Balki is playing a trick and apologizes to him for having made fun of his fears. As they get ready to go to work:
Larry opens the closet and a big ol’ pod falls out. And, yep, the show is telling us that it’s doing a parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So, okay, we know how the rest of the episode will play out, right? But wait–the show is also trying to do its version of The Dick Van Dyke Show’s parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In season 2, the show tried to make the statement that Balki and Larry had something more to offer than such classic pairings as Gilligan and the Skipper; here, this could be a signal that the show is throwing down the gauntlet to outdo Dick Van Dyke.
Balki phases through the door, and the “oh no!” guitar riff comes on.
Oh no! How will Larry follow him? Will this new ability keep plots like “The Break In” from ever happening again? And will Balki just pass right through Larry when they try to have sex? How will Larry make Balki stop being an alien without being wrong in the end?
At the Chronicle, Lydia and Harriette are right we we left them, and Larry recaps the last scene for them, since they weren’t there.
Lydia does some quick psychoanalysis and says that Larry’s just paranoid from scary movies. But then Harriette calls Larry cousin.
Whaaaat? That’s not a word black people use! They usually say brother, or sister, baby, or honeychild. Something’s wrong here!
Lydia just straight up tells the audience what the plot of this episode is, and then she and Harriette leave, cackling. Larry’s super-stressed about it, so he reads the paper, rather than contribute to its creation in any way.
He then reads aloud the headline that we just saw, so I have a serious question for all of you out there. I understand that both the home and studio audiences need to know what the headline said, but couldn’t you cut the part intended for the studio audience out of the broadcast?
Balki floats down and makes a stupid joke, as well as this face for the third time this episode. It’s also the third time I’ve made that face this episode. He gaslights Larry for awhile by appearing, disappearing, acting like an actual American by reading a newspaper headline that impacts him directly and not giving a crap about it.
That maybe-Latino woman pushes a pod in a shopping cart, and then Larry just tells us the plot of the episode again. What the fuck is this shit? This episode is 80% characters explaining the plot. Fine, show, I give up!
Do whatever zany shit you’re going to do, just quit talking about it. What’s the planet Mypos like?
Balki: All men are created cousins.
Okay, that was sort of funny.
Balki tries to use Claire Hayden’s oracular sound effect to turn Larry into a Mypiot. He tells Larry that he wants to go to Mypos, he’s going to enjoy it, and that chitlins will taste just like candy to him. But it doesn’t take! Larry’s just too American!
Balki spews some shit about Mypiots being on earth for thousands of years but they all decided to be evil because Balki watched a scary movie, so then Balki’s floating and talking in an evil voice.
Is he sick of Earth’s bullshit or is he possessed? Are there multiple Mypiots or just Balki? Does he lead them?
Do I give a shit?
Larry runs home, where he calls up Jennifer and tells her to drop whatever she’s doing and come there.
Jennifer, wearing a David Byrne big suit, comes in and punches Larry in the stomach again. Nah, I wish, it’s just Larry explaining the plot again, so let’s hurry this along.
Balki’s outside the window (can’t he phase in?), Jennifer’s got a vaguely ethnic vest on, the rest of the women phase in through the door. This kind of makes me wonder if Balki’s had sex with all these women.
Larry tries to get away but it’s no use–he hears Balki creeping up behind–but he’s out of time.
ONE OF US
WE ACCEPT YOU
ONE OF US
Evil, possessed alien Balki Bartokomous has accomplished his goal, so let’s talk about the goal of this episode.
Up until the point where Balki started floating, this had been pretty much a beat-for-beat re-creation of the Dick Van Dyke Show episode “It May Look Like a Walnut”. I took the time to watch it, so here’s my take on how “Aliens” measures up.
Rob Petrie tries to get his wife, Laura, to stay up late watching horror movies. She doesn’t, and he does, causing Rob to dream that he is in the version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that he just watched, which included characters with eyes in the backs of their heads, no thumbs, and who spread their influence over humanity through walnuts.
His dream begins with Laura giving him walnuts for breakfast, leading Rob to think she’s making fun of him. Then Rob goes to work, and his co-workers appear to be in on the gag, since there are walnuts all over the office. Balki is playing tricks, Lydia and Harriette appear to be in on it, giant pods in both locations, same show, right? No.
The difference at this point is that Rob’s co-workers, Buddy and Sally, are writers for a comedy show. There’s still the possibility that it’s all just a joke. It’s not until their boss, Mel Cooley, comes in, that Rob starts to worry. I haven’t watched this show in years, but it’s obvious from the context that Mel is always serious, and him “playing along” is the real indicator that Rob’s in deep shit. Lydia and Harriette don’t joke around with Larry, so they’re left with just explaining the plot.
Once the truth is revealed to Rob, he rushes home, where he’s met with even more horrors from his wife, who does have an eye in the back of her head. Jennifer? Jennifer wears a vest.
Laura has also filled the Petrie home with walnuts. Balki? Balki floats and puts vests on people. Walnuts are funny, in and of themselves, but also because they’re a visual play on the pods from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Vests? The show seems to think that’s funny, just like Leonard 6 thought that underarm rockets were funny. You can only go so far in trading on words that are sort of funny.
The Dick Van Dyke Show gets away with it because it–figuratively as well as literally–floods the episode with the funny word; you can only have as many vests as you have characters.
I ended up liking “Just Desserts” because of how manic it got, even if it was mostly fluff physical comedy. It was trying to re-create one scene from an episode of I Love Lucy; I kind of doubt this show could ever pull off complicated gender role commentary, so it’s best it didn’t try. But “Aliens” tries to do an homage to a whole episode, and rather than topping it, finds itself having to remove parts that don’t fit. This left vacuums that ended up being filled by explanations of the plot.
When I saw this week’s episode title, I was really hoping for Dmitri to fuck Larry’s face, and for a slimy little Balki to pop out of Larry’s chest, but we got this instead.
Balki wakes Larry from the second instance of REM disorder we’ve observed. But Larry’s relieved to be back in the real world now, where Balki doesn’t fly, Mary Anne’s so dumb she thinks a satellite is what a cowboy uses when he goes riding at night, and where
Then the cousins explain the plot of the episode as a whole–Larry DREAMED about how Balki was from a planet called Mypos and was not nice and was turning other people into Mypiots so he could take them back to Mypos, with the four-color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was…
I laughed out loud at Larry explaining that he watches horror movies to prove to himself that he’s brave: when he was a child, Fantasia made him break down in tears and his parents had to take him out of the theater.
Larry’s lesson this week is to not watch 12 hours of scary movies, and he suggests they just hand out candy to kids next year. Sounds like a great episode!
In the final scene, we see that Larry is still in the coma, and we are left wondering if this is the reality, or if him facing a monster-of-the-week with his friends Balki, Jennifer, and Mary Xander is the reality.
See you next week for “Piano Movers”. I can’t possibly imagine what that episode could be about.
Catchphrase Count: Balki (2); Larry (0); The Women (1, but it’s Balki’s)
Boner Count: Balki (0); Larry (0)
*Or perhaps it betrays his fear? I mean, he is a recovering television addict, so he’s got to be scared shitless at how badly this night could end up.
**Don’t come at me with your newly-minted Wikipedia knowledge of what it was actually called. One purpose of language is to be able to communicate meaning and have it understood. You knew what I meant, and so did Google.
***German for make-bake-goat-goat
7 thoughts on “Season 4, Episode 3: Aliens”
I’m really confused as to why they called this one Aliens when they riffed on an entirely different (riff on an entirely different) movie. Yes, the bodysnatchers were aliens, but unless you also tie this into Alien/s, what’s the point? Why not Bodysnatch This? Snatch, Baby? Okay, not that one.
I wanted to give this episode a lot of points for creativity until you pointed out that Dick Van Dyke did the same thing decades beforehand, almost note for note. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that episode, and this just further emphasizes how far ahead of its time it really was. Episode-length pastiche of a famous film? Every show does at least one now. How many did it back then?
Also, my god, Mary Tyler Moore was just an absolutely gorgeous woman. Talented, funny, smart, yes, but holy crap is that some timeless beauty as well.
The Hays Code was weird. I did a Fiction into Film for Kiss Me Deadly a while back, and found out that the “censored ending” was actually darker and more violent than the original intention. Instead of two of the main characters running along the beach to escape a blaze, it had them both die in the fire. I guess that was considered a better ending because one of the characters was kind of a bad guy, so his death means he didn’t get away with anything, but the death of his innocent assistant at the same time should sort of fly in the face of that, I’d think.
No idea if that was Hays-Code specific, but it shows that some kind of unilateral “evil is always punished” approach leads to some odd resolutions.
The Hays Code did give us one undeniable improvement that I know of, though. Double Indemnity was originally meant to end with the main character (also kind of a bad guy) in the electric chair. Instead we got a much more beautiful, quiet, artful moment which still implies that he dies, but in a much less graphic and far more narratively satisfying way. The final moment in that film is one of my favorite in any movie ever, and I can’t imagine that the electric chair ending would have been nearly as affecting.
And finally, Halloween episodes: Roseanne > The Simpsons.
Holy crap, stop everything you’re doing right now and watch “It May Look Like a Walnut”.
But yeah, even “Invasion of the Balki Snatchers” would have been an improvement. It’s not like the title would give anything away since every third line of dialogue is a TV Guide summary.
I remember this episode! It was one that I taped and watched often. I didn’t realize how repetitive that it was or how little actually happens.
I watched a few of the ABC sitcoms’ Halloween episodes from around this time, including the “Growing Pains” one, the “Family Matters” one (it involved Laura and Steve being taken hostage during a bank robbery), and the “Head of the Class” one (it was part 1 of a two-parter in which Arvid was bullied).
The “Growing Pains” one was kind of neat in that it involved the power going out on the block, so trick-or-treating was scrubbed, and the family sat in a circle on the living room floor and told ghost stories, so we got a few different (pretty funny) stories in one episode.
Jason’s story involved an alien invasion and was taped in or post-converted to black and white. It referenced “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, and there was also a thing with the possessed humans having yellow eyes (not sure where that’s from). Also, they drank coffee by pouring it down their pants.
“there was also a thing with the possessed humans having yellow eyes (not sure where that’s from)”
One thing that I always found weird was they still included the stock shots of the apartment building’s exterior in Larry’s dream. That brought up two questions in my mind:
1) In the world of Larry’s dream, how many of the people driving past the apartment building are converted Mypiots?
2) Why would a shot of traffic driving past the apartment be included when Larry’s already in the apartment (and it’s his dream, so it should be from his perspective)?
Also, the pods serve no purpose in the story. Balki was converting people via vests, not growing duplicates in pods.
So where do you think he was keeping all those vests, huh?
In the closet. Like the… oh, you know what I’m talking about.